Two new mothers sue after eating poppy seed bagels ‘led to child abuse probe’
Two mothers from New Jersey have claimed in a new lawsuit that eating poppy seed bagels resulted in a false positive drug test, which led them to be reported for possible neglect or abuse of their child just days after giving birth. The women also alleged that the drug tests were performed without their consent.
In the separate complaints filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), the two women alleged that the New Jersey hospitals in which they gave birth had violated their rights by drug testing them without their knowledge or consent. According to the New Jersey Monitor, the tests resulted in false positives that prompted both hospitals to alert child welfare authorities.
However, the new mothers claimed it was the poppy seed bagels they had eaten before going to the hospital that resulted in the positive drug test results. The ACLU-NJ, which represents both women in the complaints filed with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, has sued both the Hackensack University Medical Center and Virtua Voorhees Hospital for violating the mothers’ right to privacy.
Poppy seeds come from a species of poppy plant called Papaver somniferum, which produces opium. Heroin and other opiates are derived from poppy plants, according to the University of Florida Health. Although poppy seeds are legal and safe to eat, consuming certain poppy seed food products can lead to positive urine drug test results for opiates, as well as morphine or codeine.
Earlier this year, the US Department of Defense even released a memo warning service members to “avoid consumption of all poppy seeds, including food products and baked goods containing poppy seeds” in case of a codeine-positive urinalysis result.
The first complaint filed against the Hackensack University Medical Center (HUMC) refers to one mother as Kate L, who gave birth to her first child on 21 September 2022. Kate reportedly ate an everything bagel with poppy seed toppings the day before arriving at the hospital, which she says she ate “two to three times each week” due to her pregnancy cravings. THE ACLU-NJ claimed that an HUMC nurse collected Kate’s urine on 20 September, but “neither the intake nurse nor anyone else explained the purpose for the sample nor what HUMC would do with the sample.”
The lawsuit also claimed that hospital staff did not inform her of the positive results until four days after they allegedly administered the drug test without her consent. “Kate was confused and overwhelmed,” the complaint read. “She did not understand why the hospital would wait a full four days to tell her about a drug test conducted on her urine, and she did not understand how she could receive a positive test result when she had not taken opiates.”
The second complaint filed against the Virtua Voorhees Hospital (VVH) in Voorhees Township, NJ refers to the second mother as Kaitlin K, who delivered her second child on 20 October 2022. Similarly to Kate L, Kaitlin K was instructed to provide a urine sample to VVH staff, but “neither the nurse nor anyone else explained the purpose for the sample nor what VVH would do with it.”
Before going into labour, Kaitlin claimed to have received a new test result on her MyChart – a software used by VVH to share information with patients – which indicated that a drug test performed on her had returned positive for opiates. “Kaitlin thought it could be a mistake as she never thought she was providing a sample for a drug test, and no one at the hospital talked with her about the need for one,” the complaint read. “No one from the hospital staff spoke with Kaitlin about the test that day, so she believed the results must have been in error.”
On the morning that her water broke, Kaitlin allegedly ate a bagel containing poppy seeds for breakfast.
Following their positive test results, both women were allegedly reported to the New Jersey Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCPP) for possible child abuse and neglect of their newborn babies. The mothers and their families were subjected to continued questioning, home inspections, and additional monitoring despite providing negative drug tests for three months afterward.
“No one should be subjected to unnecessary and nonconsensual drug tests. Our clients are sending a clear message to hospitals that these testing and reporting policies are unacceptable,” said ACLU-NJ staff attorney Molly Linhorst in a press release. “Discriminatory testing policies like these upend what should be a time of joy for families, and so often subject them to further trauma and unwarranted investigation by the state.”
Kate L said in a statement that she is “terrified of ever going to a hospital again” and “felt like the doctors were questioning my character and parenting skills.” Meanwhile, client Kaitlin K said she felt “violated” after allegedly receiving the drug test without her consent. “This whole ordeal has been extremely stressful and has turned our lives upside down and now, because of what happened, I live in fear of medical tests and how they might be used against me as a mother,” she said.
New mothers throughout the US have filed similar lawsuits in the past after consuming poppy seed food products, which allegedly resulted in a false positive drug test. In 2021, two women in New York were reported to child services after receiving a positive result on a drug test taken “without consent”. One woman said she had recently eaten a poppy seed bagel, while another ate a salad with poppy seed dressing.
In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for Virtua Voorhees Hospital said it is the hospital’s “customary approach not to comment on pending litigation.”
“As a health system dedicated to providing safe, comprehensive, and equitable care to the community, we are fully committed to reviewing this matter,” said spokesperson Daniel Moise.
The Independent has contacted the ACLU-NJ and the Hackensack University Medical Center for comment.